The Legacy of One LifeErwin W. Lutzer | June 28, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
Peter’s life has left a legacy of repercussions that will continue into eternity. It’s not just about what he believed or what he did, it’s also because of who he became. God changed him from the inside out, and because of that, other lives have been changed. And thanks to what Christ has done in our lives, we too can leave such a legacy to the world.
You know, I think it’s true to say, isn’t it, that God has put eternity in every human heart? And you may not realize that, but you and I have been built by God in such a way that we will always pursue meaning. We want to mean something and we want to be valuable. But the only way we can have meaning in our lives, or have permanent value, is to be rightly related to God.
Can you imagine the frustration of those who are trying to find meaning and value apart from God? Two days ago I heard a testimony. A woman stood up to share in a meeting that I was at, saying that she had lived for parties and booze and immorality, and her life was so hollow that she was contemplating suicide. She was trying to find meaning and value in all the wrong places, and then she met Christ, or more accurately, Christ met her, and she was converted. What a change in her life!
Well, if you’ve been with us you know that I’ve been preaching a series of messages on the life of Peter, and today we come to the last of that series. And we’re going to take several different ideas, particularly those that come from 2 Peter. If you would, take your Bibles and turn to that passage in 2 Peter, one of the books that Peter wrote, and let’s draw together some loose strands of his life and bring them together in some kind of a closure and some kind of a coherent hole, because Peter became a great man. But you know you and I can also become great people before God. We will never become like Peter in being the foundation of the church, and having our names written as one of the foundation stones in the New Jerusalem. And you know that that’s true. The Bible says in Revelation 21 that the New Jerusalem has on it the twelve names of the Apostles of the Lamb. We’ll never have that, but we can mean something to others and to God forever. Our lives can have meaning, significance and value.
What I’d like to do very briefly, and it will be brief, is to give you three reasons why Peter’s life has eternal repercussions. And let’s remember that he was just a common fisherman. He was no different than we are so far as his constitution was concerned. He was a sinner with the same kinds of struggles, and yet his life goes on forever, just as our lives can go on forever.
Number one, because of what he believed! Notice in 2 Peter 1, he says in verse 16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”
Peter is saying, “We were there on the Mount of Transfiguration and we heard the voice of God give this verdict regarding His Son.” And Peter understood more clearly than ever that he was in the company of God in the flesh. He believed in God incarnate.
You say, “Oh I wish I had been there. How different my life would be if only I had been on the Mount of Transfiguration and had the same experience as Peter had.” Well, the good news is that we have something that is just as good. Peter goes on to say in verse 19: “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter believed in the incarnate word Christ. He also believed in the written word. He said the word was made more sure because of our experiences. There are the prophets. In fact, one translation says that we have even a more sure word of testimony, and that is the prophets. Peter is saying, “My experience isn’t even any more certain than the words that were spoken by God’s prophets, and we do well to take heed until the day star arises.”
You know, as long as the sun is invisible, you need a lantern, but when the sun comes up, the lantern is no longer necessary. There will be a time when we will not need the Bible and that is when the day star returns. But until that time, we have this sure word of testimony.
Peter had an everlasting impact because of what he believed because whether you go to heaven or hell is not determined by what you do, but what you believe. Five hundred miles north of Vancouver, the Fraser River gushes down a very rocky mountain and then splits in two parts and it’s called the Great Divide. The Bible says that there is also a great divide among humanity – those who believe in Christ, who understand Him to be Messiah, God in the flesh, and trust Him personally; and those who don’t. And Jesus said, “Those who fall on this rock will be crushed.” We are brought to a position of humility and brokenness. But if that rock should fall on us, then we will be ground into powder, which is another way of saying, “If you believe on Christ He will come and change you and take you to heaven, but if you don’t, He will be your judge.” So Peter believed, and because he believed, his life was changed.
Secondly, it’s not just because of what he believed, but also because of what he did. I don’t have time to talk about all the things that Peter did in the Gospels, but you know he preached sermons, and he testified and he witnessed, and he had that great impact on the lives of many, many people. And all of that has repercussions throughout all of eternity.
You know there’s a verse in the book of Revelation that says, “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord for their works do follow them.” It was Shakespeare who said that the evil that men do lives after them, but the good is interred with their bones. That is true only of unbelievers. It is not true of believers. For believers, their good is not interred with their bones, but their good continues generation to generation to generation. It’s often been said, and I think quite accurately so, that the reason that the judgment seat of Jesus Christ for Christians is at the Rapture, and people are not judged immediately when they die today is because all of the good effects of their good deeds have as yet not come in. The effects keep going on from generation to generation to generation. And only at the end will it all be clear how much good was done because of the believing saints.
You see, every deed you and I do has repercussions, and those repercussions are set up like dominoes, and we don’t know how those dominoes are arranged. So there’s someone who works here with Carl Bastion, who is involved in children’s work, and it’s hard to be involved with children. At least, I think it’s hard to be involved because children’s attention span is oftentimes very short, and they can get on your nerves. And there are faithful people who are serving, and what they do not know is that in that class there are boys and girls who are going to grow up to become men and women, mightily used of God. But you can’t see that when you are going through the experience, and that’s why God call us to faithfulness and says, “There will be more good coming out of the actions that you do than you can possibly realize on this side of the grave.” Their deeds do follow them. So Peter became a great man and his life has eternal repercussions because of what he believed, but also secondly, because of what he did.
Thirdly, also because of what he became! Notice in this second epistle of Peter that the thing that he emphasizes is the internal character of individuals because the work that God does in us is more important even than the work that he does through us. You see, what God is in the business of doing is changing the human heart. God wants us to be more Christ like. He wants to change us from the inside out. He wants to change those hearts of ours, which by nature are deceitful and wicked. In fact, if you knew what was in the heart of the person who is sitting next to you, you’d move. Really! There’s a deceitful heart in all of us.
Now notice what Peter says in verse 3 of chapter 1: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
And then he says that you need to add seven virtues to your faith. This begins in verse 5, and I’ll simply list the virtues. I will not read the passage. He says to your faith you should add moral excellence. That means goodness, integrity, believability and truthfulness. He says you should add knowledge; that is a spiritual knowledge that gives you insight. And the insight comes because you have been immersed in God’s mind, reflected in His Word. Self-control! The passion should be under control. Perseverance, which means endurance and staying power - staying under in adversity! There is godliness. That is reverence toward God and godlikeness. And kindness – caring for others! And last of all, there is love, which sacrificially desires other people’s good.
Now notice this. Of all of those character qualities that Peter lists, none of them are really related to our personality directly. And they certainly are not related to our abilities because what Peter is saying is, “In this day in which God is using His church (and eventually will return), what God is interested in primarily is the change of character.”
Let me read again chapter 3, verse 10: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Let’s stop there for a moment.
Think about it! Every work of art is going to be burned. Every new car, every new building, every bit of our clothing, everything that people have worked toward, saved toward, things that people have fought over, are all going to be burned up. And that’s why Peter says, “Since these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” Peter is saying that the only thing that is going to survive that fire, the only thing that is going to survive the total destruction of Planet Earth is going to be the character of individuals. Human beings are going to live forever.
What I’d like to do is to ask you to think about three lessons that grow out of this that we can take home with us. I told you that Peter believed the right things. He did the right things, and he became the right person. But let me summarize it all now by saying first of all that every person that lives has eternal impact. Every single one has eternal impact! Even those who aren’t Christians have eternal impact. It is an eternal impact not for good, but for evil, I might add. Remember that every person you meet after this meeting breaks up and we begin to say hello to one another, or to greet one another, every single individual on Planet Earth eventually eternally will either be a horrifying person (a horrifying being), or an eternal wonder of God’s matchless grace. Everyone lives forever.
And the impact that you have, even though you think it may be negligible, eventually that impact will go on throughout all of eternity because you are going to live for eternity, and all the people whom you influence for good or for ill will live eternally. So every person has eternal impact.
Secondly, every Christian’s life has a mixture of both good and evil. Do you remember what Jesus said to Peter? Back in Luke 22 He said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you that he might sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith might not fail. And when you have been converted and restored, strengthen your brethren.”
You see, what the Lord wants to do in our lives is to work within us so that eventually we have more wheat than chaff. Satan wanted to take Peter and prove that Peter was nothing but chaff. Jesus wanted to prove that Peter was part chaff and part wheat, and eventually the chaff would be blown away and the wheat would stay back. You see, we’re all mixed, aren’t we?
There are things in my life that I wish I would not have done. There are failures. Some are sins of omission, things that I neglected to do. There are other sins that are sins of commission. And all of us live with that mixture within our hearts. But I want you to know that the good things that we do for Christ are things that go on eternally. The bad things we can be forgiven for. We are cleansed from these, but even there, there may be some repercussions that continue on, particularly if we have wrongly influenced the lives of some people. But nevertheless we are forgiven for that and eventually those bad things are absorbed and no longer are a factor throughout all of eternity. But every Christian has a mixture of good and bad.
Thirdly, and finally, only eternity really will reveal the good or the bad that we have done. Only eternity will reveal it! You see God does not give us the privilege of seeing the impact of our lives on this earth. We sometimes see a little bit of it. We can see some good things that have come perhaps, but most of the repercussions that we have set up that are going to go on forever are hidden from us, and we have no idea the impact that we are having. Think of how detailed the judgment will eventually be. Jesus said, “A cup of cold water given in My name - that person will not lose his reward.”
I’m not sure who put this cup of cold water up on the pulpit this morning, but God knows, and he will not lose his reward because it has been used and appreciated. You see, we forget about those things. We do good things and we can’t even remember them but God remembers and His reward is detailed. Think about that, folks. But most of what we do is hidden from us, but only eternity reveals it. And remember it’s not what you do, but for whom you do it is very, very important. If you are an office manager, and you do it for Christ, you have the same opportunity to receive a reward as ministers and missionaries and even people such as the Apostle Peter because God takes note. But we don’t know it, do we? We don’t see it.
Wally Heistad is one of our members here at the church, and also a high school teacher. Have you ever thought about what it must be like to teach high school in a Chicago high school? Now think of all that he goes through. He has no idea the idea the lives that he is touching that eventually God will do something in, but he can’t see that now.
I think of Ardith Ward, who is the personnel manager over at Bloomingdales, in a rough and tough business world of today, living a Christian life in that environment and in that context. She doesn’t know, nor will she ever see the impact of a life lived for Christ in that environment.
I think of Burl and Vivianne Vaughn sitting over there, faithful in welcoming people, in praying for them. They have no idea the number of lives that they have touched for the Kingdom, and they do not see that now, but eventually in heaven they will.
And you think of people like the Welches, and the Elephos family, and a whole host of others who have been faithful to God throughout the years, and only in heaven will we see how God set up those dominoes so that the effects of what we did in our prayers and our kindness and our yieldedness to God has eternal repercussions.
What I am saying to you today is take heart. Be faithful where God has planted you. Serve Christ every single day, and all of your faithfulness will meet you again and be multiplied by a generous God. He did it for Peter. He can do it for us.
Peter died, by the way, tradition says, crucified upside down, requesting that he be crucified upside down once it was known that he would be crucified, because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same position as his master. Notice in 2 Peter 1 he talks about it. He knows that he is about to die. He says in verse 13: “I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.” And he’s talking about John 21 when Jesus indicated that Peter would die on a cross. But he goes on, and you and I will also forever.
Remember that missionary couple that served the Lord so faithfully overseas, and they were coming back on a big steamboat, and there were other people there who were drinking and carousing around and doing these kinds of things. And this missionary couple felt so alone. And then when they arrived in New York in the harbor there was a delegation of people that had come to meet that worldly crowd, but nobody was there to meet the missionaries. And they were so discouraged – angry, actually, at God. After all, you know He’s the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And the man said to himself, “Isn’t that interesting? You serve the devil, and when you get home there’s somebody to welcome you. You serve Christ, and you get home and there’s nobody there to welcome you.” And he kept telling God that over and over again.
But one day he came down from his prayer time, and he clearly was released in spirit. He was free and happy. The burden had lifted. He explained to his wife that once again he had just been telling God what he had told God before. Isn’t it amazing how often we keep telling God these things, thinking for sure He’s forgotten? And he said, “I told Him that one more time.” I said, “Lord, the people of the world come home and there’s somebody there to meet them. We come home, serving You, King of kings and Lord of lords, and there’s nobody to meet us.” And he said, “It was as if I heard the voice of God say, ‘Wait a moment! You are not home yet.’” In the end, it’ll be worth it, and we’ll have repercussions for good through Christ forever. Please live a life that makes a difference for eternity.
Our Lord, today we to thank You for those who have gone before us, those who have prayed for us, and the thousands of good deeds that we’ve been recipients of, people who we will never thank on Planet Earth, prayers that have been offered up, that we don’t know about, for us. And we thank you that someday it’s all going to become clear, and it’s all going to be made plain. And we will see, Father, that through your grace what we did lasted, and the meaning and the significance that we sought was ours.
For those who do not know Christ, we pray today that they might understand that apart from Him they will spend eternity without You, without meaning, with a loss of dignity, and in eternal shame. Oh Father, today, we pray that we might respond to this message in whatever way that Your Spirit prompts us to.
And now before I close in prayer, if you are here and you have never received Christ as your Savior, and if in your spirit you admit honestly that there is very little meaning and very little value in your life, and you are headed on the road without significance eternally, why don’t you come to Christ. Remember it’s not what you do that saves you. It’s what you believe and in whom you place your trust. You can pray this prayer and say, “Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner. I thank You that You died for me, and at this moment I receive You as mine. All of my trust rests in You.” Amen.